Serious Violence

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:17 pm on 15th May 2019.

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Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Labour, Gedling 5:17 pm, 15th May 2019

It was good to see the Home Secretary in his place today. I know he is sincere in his attempts to deal with this issue, but, as many of my hon. Friends know, what we are trying to say to the Government and to the Home Secretary, as one of the most senior members of Her Majesty’s Government, is that we do not see any urgency. The Home Secretary should be here in this Chamber week after week after week. We have been demanding that he comes here for months. Although it was good to see him, the country would have expected the senior politician responsible for dealing with knife crime to be here, and I will not stop saying that either to him or to this House.

We face a national emergency; there is no argument about it. Every single Member who speaks on this issue talks about the national emergency that our country faces. Never has knife crime been at this level since records began—never. Homicides with respect to knife crime are rampant. Young people, particularly in London, but not exclusively, are being slaughtered on our streets.

All that is taking place, yet the Home Secretary comes to this House only now and again. He talks about the knife crime summit, but I have not got a clue what the knife crime summit is. I have read the written statement, but where is the opportunity for Members of this House to ask the Home Secretary time and again what is happening, what is going on, what is working and what is not? That opportunity is not there. My hon. Friend Vicky Foxcroft and others have raised this issue time and again. It is not good enough.

Yesterday, the National Crime Agency told the Government not that it wants a few million here or a few million there, but that it needs £2.7 billion to tackle the issue. That is not the Labour party or anyone else trying to score party political points; it is the chief executive of the National Crime Agency telling the Government that it needs those additional resources to tackle the serious crime that this country faces. Two thousand county lines now exist, and the number is growing exponentially. This Chamber should be roaring with disgust at the fact that county lines are operating in every single part of our country—not just in London and the big cities, but in coastal towns and rural areas. There are 2,000 county lines, and a senior officer who appeared before the Home Affairs Committee a couple of weeks ago said that an estimated 10,000 children are involved. That is an absolute disgrace. Where has the Home Secretary been? He has just been banging his fist on the Dispatch Box, saying on behalf of the country that he is not going to accept it.

As I said two or three months ago, if there were a terrorist attack, the resources and cameras of the nation would be focused on that. This Chamber would be packed with Ministers—starting with the Prime Minister—queuing up day after day to lay out, quite rightly, how we were going to defend our communities against the terrorist threat. Nobody is saying that that should not happen. Make no mistake, of course that would be the right thing to do. But where is the same passion and urgency from the Government when so many young people and others have been stabbed to death, shot or affected by violent crime? Every single community is affected—10,000 children. Where is the passion and desire to do something about it?

When we start cutting the numbers of police officers, youth workers and so on, it does create a problem. I will just leave that point for the Government to reflect on. Every single constituency in this country is affected, including the Minister’s. She will not go into the next election saying, “We’ve got too many police officers.” Every single person in this country is saying that we need more police officers. It is a no-brainer. We do not need a review or research into the issue; we need police officers on the street.

This is a national emergency. I have said it before and I will say it again: Cobra should be meeting to deal with it. The whole apparatus of the state should be operating to get at people, not at the kids who are just carrying drugs. Of course, the kids have to be sorted out and stopped—that cannot be allowed to happen—but where is the effort to bring down the big criminal gangs and the people running these operations?

People in estates are terrified. They are more frightened of the criminal gangs than they are of the police. They are more frightened to give evidence to get these people prosecuted than they are of the legal apparatus of the state. It cannot go on. No wonder people sometimes turn around, look at me—I do not want to offend anybody, so I will use myself as an example—and say, “Does Vernon Coaker know what he is talking about? Does he know what we are facing in our community? Does he understand what it’s really like on our estate? He says that we should go to the police, but where is he going to be at 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock or 11 o’clock, when people wait outside our house and intimidate us? Is he going to be there protecting us?”

It cannot go on. I do not want to paint a picture of a country completely out of control, but in some parts of our country the situation is simply and utterly unacceptable. The whole apparatus of state should be getting in there and sorting it out. I am not prepared to see 10,000 children—children!—left operating under county lines; and the number will grow unless we get hold of it.

Clearly we need more police on the street, and £2.7 billion, as Lynne Owens has said. Where are the Government in this? The Home Secretary should have been banging the desk and saying, “As a result of this serious violence debate, I’m going to go and see the Chancellor.” The whole House will support the Home Secretary if he goes to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and says that he needs masses more money to deal with this problem. It is a national emergency and money should not be an object. We would support him—I would support him—in demanding that money for policing. I would also support him in demanding extra money for the youth workers and the community workers—for opening the youth centres and helping young people excluded from school. Where was he in banging on the desk and demanding that from the Chancellor? The Chancellor will come along, I guarantee, and put in a couple of hundred million here, or £30 or £40 million there, spread over five years, and people will have to bid for it. It is not enough. It is not sufficient to meet the scale of the problem.

Every single Member in this House, whichever side they are on, including you, Mr Deputy Speaker—I know you are neutral, but this applies to you as well—will have in their constituency community organisations and youth groups that work with young people who are challenged and difficult. In Nottingham, to give three examples, we have the Nottingham School of Boxing, the Pythian Club, and the Groundwork Greater Nottingham Trust. They are scrimping around for money, yet they are some of the most effective people in stopping young people becoming captured by the criminals or getting them out of criminality. They cannot get a few pounds—it is unbelievable. It is pathetic. I do not care what the Chancellor says about his fiscal rules. They are scrimping around for a few quid to keep their hall open, yet they are sometimes the most effective people at either preventing our young people from getting into crime or helping them to get out of it.

Why does the Minister not bang on the desk and say, “I’m going to look for parliamentary support to bring the urgency to this debate that is needed”? Cobra needs to be called. This needs to be treated as a national emergency. The Home Office, acting in the interests of this country in standing up to the criminal gangs who are exploiting so many of our estates and so many of our young people, needs to say, on behalf of and with the support of this Parliament, “We’re going to go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and demand the resources that this country needs to fight these criminals.”